Abbas Refused to Meet Democratic Delegation, Led by Pelosi, That Visited Israel

The Palestinian president decided to halt contacts with all U.S. officials after Trump’s Jerusalem declaration

House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi
Jonathan Ernst/ Reuters

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refused to meet with a delegation of Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives that visited Israel two months ago, in protest of the Trump administration’s policies toward Israel. Abbas’ refusal to meet the delegation caught its members by surprise, because many of them are constant critics of the Trump administration, and they were hoping to hear the Palestinian point of view about Trump’s policies while visiting the region.

The delegation, led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, visited Israel and Jordan in late March. It comprised 11 representatives, including two members of the House Intelligence Committee. They held lengthy meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and King Abdullah II in Amman, Jordan. In addition, they met with representatives of civil rights groups in Israel that are fighting against the government’s plan to deport African asylum seekers.

The delegation also wanted to visit Ramallah and meet Abbas, but to their surprise, he refused to meet them. Palestinian Authority officials explained that following Trump’s speech on Jerusalem last December — in which he recognized the city as Israel’s capital — Abbas decided to halt all political contacts with the United States, irrespective of the official’s party affiliation or branch of government. Abbas has also refused for months to communicate with the team within the administration working on Trump’s proposed peace plan, which Palestinians believe will fully adopt Israeli positions and ignore their own.

A Palestinian official told Haaretz that Abbas refused to meet the delegation even though he knew they were all Democrats, and included strong critics of Trump. The decision, this official added, was meant to send a message that despite the Democrats’ criticism of Trump, the party didn’t act in any significant way to oppose the president’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the U.S. embassy to the city.

According to this Palestinian official, Abbas reached the conclusion that the Democrats gave their silent blessing to the embassy move. While some Democrats, like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York have openly and repeatedly praised Trump for moving the embassy, many other party leaders and officials have taken a more nuanced line, saying that while they support the idea of moving the embassy, they find the timing and the manner in which it was done unhelpful and even damaging.

A Democratic congressional aide who is aware of the incident, told Haaretz that there were two main reactions among the Democrats to Abbas’ refusal to meet the delegation. “Some people said it made them doubt his sincerity to engage in peace talks, because if he won’t even meet a group of Democrats who don’t hesitate to criticize Trump, who is he going to work with? On the other hand, it made everyone understand how much anger and disappointment there is on the Palestinian side towards Trump, and how ridiculous it is to expect his administration to promote peace between the two sides.”

The Trump administration is preparing to present its peace plan in a few weeks, according to recent reports. The plan has been in the works for more than a year, crafted by a team that includes Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, his senior adviser on negotiations Jason Greenblatt, and his ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. The Democratic aide told Haaretz that “before the visit, everyone thought Trump’s chances of presenting a successful peace plan were low. After the visit, it seems more like zero.”

Despite Abbas’ refusal to meet with the delegation or with Trump administration officials, Haaretz revealed this week that in late April, the Palestinian Authority’s security and intelligence chief, Majid Faraj, met in Washington with Mike Pompeo, who was then head of the CIA, and was later appointed Secretary of State. Palestinian officials emphasized to Haaretz that the meeting took place before Pompeo became a diplomatic figure, and that it focused mostly on security issues. Despite Abbas’ political disengagement from the United States, these officials added, the PA is planning to continue security and intelligence cooperation with Washington.